Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chicago Charlie Can't Wait To Get Home, and He Leaves Perez (And the MLA) A Sweet Goodbye.

What the fuck do you want from us? Somersaults? Details of our sex life? With everything... our hopes, our dreams, our ambitions, our passions, twenty or thirty years of investment, health insurance, a basic living wage, economic stability, our childrens' summer camp money and braces, our elderly parents' hospice bill, all riding on the line, what the fuck do you want from us? You want us to show some personality? You sift 500 CVs and cover letters looking for the name of our school and our publications. You call us in for an interview. You have fifteen or twenty of us, and we all put on our suit and our power-tie or and our lucky underwear (Spiderman pattern) and hope for the best.

I was interviewed today, and you know what, YOU were pretty boring too! You had no fucking personality either. You want personality and excitement, go to the fucking circus or I didn't know you were hiring me for my sparkling wit and charm; stupid me, I thought it was because I was "prepared, bright and cheery." What personality do you want from me in thirty or forty minutes (half of which you spent talking). I don't think I did any bootlicking. I smiled, I shook hands and made eye contact; I answered honestly, clearly and coherently. I didn't lie. Did you want me to tell the joke about the horse who walks into the bar? Or the one about Napoleon and the camel (punchline: We usually ride the camel to Cairo and get a hooker).

If you wanted to get to know me, to find out a bit about my personality, then you should fly to the candidates' homes for a dinner which they cook during which they are required to show you childhood photos and home movies. You want to see my personality? Come skiing with me. Go camping with me for the weekend. Spoon me at night. Oh, wait, that's why I have a wife. I forgot that this was a job interview for a minute.

Let me tell you what I hate about full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty (besides everything). You are all so smug and self-righteous. What always amazes me is that you yourselves were here once too, and now you have forgotten. How's the view from behind the protective glass? You sit there, with your health insurance and you full time job, your steady pay check and your housing subsidy. You sit there making life-altering decisions for hundreds of people, and you have the fucking gall to sit there and call them boring?

I'm sorry if my nondescript name, my desire for a paycheck and my general readiness for questions relating to my job "have made MLA prep a bit more dull this year." Because obviously, it's about you, and how much fun you have. Not about the hundreds of people who, against all odds, are looking to make a living in the field they love and have invested their whole lives in. W.C. Fields' tombstone says "Better here than Philadelphia." I'm beginning to see why.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Alison from Amherst Reports On the End of Her First MLA. Virulent Pomposity But Smashing Interviews. Everywhere in Life Is There This Balance.

This year is my first time attending MLA and hopefully my last. As academics, I know we're all pretentious in one way or another, but there is a thick and inescapable blanket of virulent pomposity lingering between the Marriott, Loews, and Philadelphia Convention Center that defies description. Inoculate yourself thoroughly before entering this danger zone. If I hear one more impossibly twee man wearing tiny glasses talking about his monograph, I don't know what I'm going to do. Please, sir, just call it a book because when you say the word monograph in casual conversation and you're not being ironic, you make me sad.

There are few friendly people at MLA. I've been to many conferences and the MLAers are by far, the coldest and snobbiest academics I have seen. Would it kill you to smile? It has been truly shocking for me to see these people in action and to have to listen to their "intellectual" conversations that are really nothing more than elaborate performances--posturing and preening and pontificating loudly in crowded hallways so as to be perceived as important and part of it all. What's even more amusing is listening to the language professors speaking French of German or Spanish thinking no one around them understands their conversation. Guess what? We're in the humanities. Most of us know exactly what you're saying. The French doesn't make it fancy around here. I hate leaving my hotel room and having to negotiate the gauntlet of assholery between me and the front door of the hotel. My hotel room sucks. Philadelphia is expensive. I am poor. This whole situation is a scam.

That said, having heard all the horror stories about MLA interviews and awkward hotel room situations and emeritus faculty falling asleep mid-conversation, I was emotionally prepared for anything. I must say that my report will be rather dull. I've finished 7 of 8 interviews so far and they've all been conducted in sitting rooms of suites and they've been engaging, conversational (dare I say, fun?) and the committees have, to a one, seemed to know who I am and have demonstrated a genuine interest in me and my work.

I'll be honest--the positive reception is freaking me out. I have spent all my free time reading the invisible tea leaves that are my nerve-addled recollections of each interview. Are these pity interviews? Are the committees just being nice because it is a proverbial buyer's market? When they laugh and nod and scribble scribble scribble, what, precisely, does that mean? When I rushed out of the room at the end of the interview in a moment of extreme awkwardness, was that the final nail in my potential employment coffin? Was I being too arrogant when I said I'm a great writer / scholar / teacher / bullshitter / asshole / colleague? Did I crack too many jokes? Was I theoretical enough when I discussed my dissertation? Is my 2-minute dissertation spiel too short? Am I delusional in thinking my interviews are ALL going well? Have I taken my medication today?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Perez on "The Con."

It was a long day, and as I write this I have three fingers of Scotch in front of me. It's all that's keeping me from diving out the window of my hotel - that, and of course the fact that the windows don't open.

My concerns about our job interview process that I shared yesterday mostly came to fruition.

The line of candidates who came into our suite was a non-differentiated melange. I joked about their names being similar, but it was their patter, their stock answers, and their painfully desperate demeanors that resembled each other the most.

I don't want to dwell on what they did wrong - or more clearly on the fact that nobody did anything RIGHT - but suffice it to say I felt like they were all running a con on us. Nobody told me anything about who they really were. They were prepared, ready, bright, cheery, and completely and utterly without personalities.

Our department has some nutjobs in it - and I wouldn't have it any other way. And I don't mean to castigate these kids for not being more unique, because I'm sure they all are. They all have special gifts and backgrounds, but whatever "interview" mentoring they've received has drained them of any life.

I honestly couldn't tell them apart. The boot licking I worried about in yesterday's post washed over me and the committee throughout the day. Even when I tried to stir things up with questions that should have tested them, their answers would drift to some non-offensive pitch for how much they love general-ed teaching or why they can't wait to advise freshmen.

And tonight two of us sat in the bar and wondered if we'd been giving the same "advice" to our own grad students. We churn a lot of them out, and I know I've been called on to give the occasional "brown bag lunch" talk about the job market. I hope I haven't damaged them in the same way today's candidates have been damaged.

Sure, there are some things in interviewing to stay away from, offending someone, sheer ignorance, endless prattling. But we have to learn about YOU, folks, the real you. Don't run a con game on us. We want to hire a human, and today I felt that all we did was see was a bunch of kids in masks.

Monday, December 28, 2009

First Interview Reports from the MLA!

We've started to hear from interviewees who are already into the morning interviews in Philly. Please to enjoy a mixed bag of results, and
please send in your own experiences:

  • IT WASN'T SO BAD! I've been dreading these interviews since my first year in grad school, but I just came from a (supposedly) dreaded hotel-room interview and it was great. A little school from the Pacific Northwest greeted me warmly at their Marriott suite - and it was phat - and we had a relaxed 65 minute meeting that went better than expected. They asked about my dissertation at the start, but then moved on to teaching concerns. Luckily for me I've had a chance to teach pretty broadly over my last 2 years and I felt so comfortable with them that when they asked about a class I'd never even thought of teaching, my answer of "I don't know how I'd handle that. But I'd love to know how you folks deal with it," was met with smiles and a really honest answer. THE MLA ROCKS!

  • I have a few "personal" links on my current faculty website, and one of the first questions my committee had for me today was about a completely unknown anime novel I wrote the text for about 5 years ago. It ended up being the best question of the interview because it's something I know a lot about and something I was able to use to talk about how I would teach an intro to CW class. I was stunned that the committee knew so much about me.

  • Oh Lord. Why am I here? I had my first interview this morning and I blew it. I realize now that I simply didn't know enough about the school. I'm one of those dumbfuck snowflake grad students who knows a lot about myself but nothing about the schools I'm trying to make into a home. I was embarrassed, but the committee didn't seem to dwell on it. I incorrectly assumed a number of things that would have been fairly easy to know had I spent a little more time researching them. I don't have another interview until tomorrow and NOW I'm going to study...dumb ass. I imagine they all wrote "dumb ass" on their legal pads after I left. Okay. Regroup.

  • Okay, who runs their heater at 80 degrees for an interview? Do they not know that I'm in a monkey suit? Do they not know that I'm nervous? I walked into their furnace of a room and there was sweat on my forehead throughout the 30 uncomfortable minutes, and I shook hands goodbye with a sweaty palm that I couldn't wipe often enough on my pants. Nice. Nice to meet you. Sorry if I'm dripping. Crack a window, would you?

  • A large state school from California had 7 people at the interview table. Is that enough, do you think? 2 didn't even ask questions. They just scribbled every inane thing I said. These 2 sat sort of behind the main 5, and I didn't know if I was to address them or what. What gives? Secretaries? Notetakers? Were they from some other table? I couldn't focus on what was being asked and I called the chair by the wrong name at the end and realized it when I was halfway out of the room. Hooray for me.

  • Manners? Don't these committees have manners? I was half way through the last answer when they just hustled me out the room into a hallway where 2 other people were waiting. They set up their times too close together. I hate this shit.

  • I'm going to get a campus interview. I can feel it. I knocked the poop out of every answer. The people were great, knew about me, asked questions I knew the answers to, and gave me a nice 5 page handout that showcased the town and the college. It's never been this easy before at the MLA. High hopes.

  • They didn't put a spotlight in my eyes, but they might as well have. Five of us were crowded into an ordinary hotel room. I got a chair - thank God - but three of them sat on the edge of a bed. They were disorganized, and I clearly saw folders for at least four other candidates (including their names and current schools!) on the floor at someone's feet. Unprofessional all the way. I wouldn't take a job if they offered it. Buffoons. And the questions were all antagonistic and designed to make you fail. They asked how I'd teach a class that wasn't even in my subfield. Are they nuts? I told them I wasn't qualified for that class and that they probably had someone else already better suited to it. Then I went through what my real strengths were. They didn't follow that up but asked a question about a completely unrelated topic. Dumbshits.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mark from Murphysboro Used to Walk Uphill to School Both Ways.

You people do not know what a bad job market is. When I was in grad school, eons ago, at No Winter U, my advisor's other student's picture was featured on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education as the poster child of the horrific job market. I applied to well over a hundred jobs. I taped the rejection letters to my office door (letters where written on paper back then). Soon others did this. You'd walk down the bleak corridor and door after door was covered with flapping letters.

But I did get a break. I got an offer for a six week gig at Freezing Cold U. Six weeks! I took it. I rented a basement and did not have car. I walked up an ice covered mountain to get to my cubicle in -20 degree weather. I was to give some lectures on my work. My gracious host announced jovially, "You will sing for your supper!" (He turned out to be a nice guy and I later co-wrote a book with him.)

The next year I took a one year position at Big City U. Get this, my "mentor" was also my landlord! Well, I didn't have to pay rent, but the apartment was filthy beyond belief. I fixed the toilet and the bath tub. I used a crowbar to open the bathroom window. I spent weeks fighting off thousands and thousands of cock roaches. My room was next to the elevator which ran up and down all through the night. My "mentor" told me how he was once visiting Really Famous U. He said: "They wanted to hire me of course. But do you know what would happen if I submitted a paper to be typed by the secretary and some, some post doc had submitted his paper before mine? Why, why, his would get typed first!" He was truly incredulous. "Why would I work at a place like that!?!?" My office turned out to be an open lounge where grad students went to smoke.

The next year I finally got a decent post doc with some stability at Nice U. The department chair came by my little office to say hello. Then he opened the door the to office next to mine. It was huge. He said: "This is for Super Big Shot who we just hired from Country in Crisis. He's the top Abstruse Specialist in the world!" He was beaming. Then he pointed to the floor and added for good measure: "His office has carpeting and yours doesn't." As if I hadn't noticed.

I am full proffie now at Mediocre U. I treat grad students, adjunct faculty and all job candidates with respect. But, let tell you this, if you can't take it get out now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Post. Of. The. Year.

The moderators have chosen "Fear" by Len from Las Cruces for Post of the Year. For us, it is representative of so much that we read here on a daily basis. It contains the concerns of so many of our readers, and we think his story is beautifully told.


I can't think of many things within the profession that don't cripple me with fear. So your query is not some fresh-as-a-baby concept upon which I'm stumbling for the first time.

Instead, it's driven and pummeled me throughout my career, grad school to 10 years in.

But the thing that scares me the most, the thing that keeps me up at night in my cups rather than snoring beside Lady Len, is that I've wasted my entire life on a profession, a calling, and a career that isn't worth a drop of my energy or blood.

Is it too strong to say that I simply don't think college works?

I'm one of those humanities proffies who seem to fill RYS's pages, always confused and heartbroken over those students who can't read, write, or think. And of course the same proffies who seem to take a licking on the page whenever they pop their fair skinned domes into target range. ("Humanities? Don't you know we're swimming in ducats over here in the Biz School / Chem Department?")

I fear that my romantic notion (really "Romantic," in that sense) of being a college professor was fueled by all the same silly novels and films that get mentioned on the page. I thought I'd be doing something, making a difference, helping young minds grow rapturous and fat on the vine. But it's all bullshit, as anyone can tell you. I fear that what I thought would be my life's work is no more gallant or noble or useful than if I'd just decided to tattoo people or style hair for a living.

What good comes of it? What good comes for the 18 out of 20 students who sorrowfully spend 16 weeks with me each term? Those 18 kill my spirit, make me want to set myself (or them) on fire. And they fight me from day one to day last. They don't want to be in college, and have 999 reasons for it that I can't even begin to defeat or answer.

Those 18 come in dumb, go out dumb, too. And they've been sold a bill of goods by their parents, the culture, the media, their high school counselors, etc. The way college has devolved is into a sort of grade 13/14 mess of bullshit remediation, caretaking, and babysitting. We don't challenge them because - my god - the customer in them won't stand for it. And after 10 years of fighting this - modestly, I'm no hero - I have fallen into the groove dug for me by my colleagues.

I fear that most of the students I see are not helped one bit by my part in their college "experience." I buy into the bullshit like they do. They must go to college. Someone must teach them.

And so I fear I do nothing for 18 out of 20 students every term. They do nothing for me. It's a sweet deal. It's a wash. Money has changed hands. Sometimes degrees are printed and framed, and it was all just a financial exercise.

Oh, the other 2 in each class. Well, they're in college for the right reasons, on their own, because they want to find out where it takes them. They buy their ticket just the same, but they make use of it. They talk and engage, and in those moments when it's me and them, I'm doing what I thought I would spend my life doing.

But I fear that the ratio is not enough. If it were not for those 2, I'd be looking for consulting work, or a nice shiny revolver to eat. (Don't tell, Mrs. Len, because she's still proud her husband is a teacher.)

Is there anything worse to think? Is there anything more dispiriting than this?

I fear it's all been for nothing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Phillie from the Plains Comes Across with a Playlet from Final Exam Day!

Phone rings. Nice but slacker-ish student with no previous snowflake tendencies on the other end mispronounces my name and introduces himself. Asks when the exam is.

I check the clock reflexively. 1:35. Still three hours before final. I tell him.

"Oh," he says. "Four of us are sitting here wondering where you are."

I repeat that the exam is at 4:30.

"I thought you said once that it was at 1:30."

I remind him that someone else in class had said this. Since, at that time, I hadn't known exactly when it was, I had told everyone to check the website for the actual exam time.

"Oh, well, I had another exam at 1:30, so this kinda screws me."

I am perplexed. I note that it's only five minutes into the exam period and urge him to head over to the other exam.

"Well, I thought I had to choose. So I chose yours."

I gently inform him the University does not routinely force/allow its students to choose which final exams to take. I note again that he can still make the other exam with time to spare.

"Well, I didn't really prepare for the other exam."

It's becoming clearer now. Because of the choice, right?

"Yeah - I chose you!"

I'm flattered.

"So, can I get a note from you...?"

A note? What should this note say?

"That you had originally scheduled the exam for 1:30 but moved it to 4:30..."

Ah. While it strokes my ego that a first-semester fresh-flake thinks that I have the power to schedule my exams any time I want and double-booking be damned, I have no choice but to burst his flakey bubble and tell him that I am not uniquely unfettered in this manner. No such note will be forthcoming because no such event ever occurred.

"But...," as the story changes in an attempt to adapt and survive in the ever-more hostile environment it finds itself in, "...I went to the website and used the... thingy... and it said 1:30."

Wrong move, snowflake. I passed that buck so fast Truman's head would have spun. Website? Ah! There's the problem. Talk to IT about your note. Clearly, they misinformed you.


** Click **

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tulsa Trixie Confesses. GradFlakes Hate Each Other, Too.

Simpering Sarah: Shut up. I can’t stand another word of you sucking up to the prof and condescending to the rest of us ignorant graduate students. I don’t even know how you got into grad school in the first place. You obviously do the reading for seminar, because you think that you know it better than all the rest of us, but your interpretations are so bat-shit insane it sometimes seems like you read something completely different. You spend all your class time telling the prof how right and smart his interpretations are, even when he smashes your interpretation. He complains to the rest of us after class about what a moron you are.

Last Minute Lucy: You started off the semester great, with great comments and insightful interpretations. Now that it’s late in the semester and everyone’s caught on to you, you’re not doing so hot. You don’t do the readings your self, you just talk with the rest of us before class about what we think about the book, and then tell the prof about our ideas in class like you came up with them yourself. Good luck writing the research paper that way.

Nick Know-it-all: We get it. You’ve read all the collected works of Foucault, Marx, Lenin, Locke, and everyone in between backwards and forwards. That’s probably all you’ve read, though, because you never talk about the actual readings.

Fraternity Fred: The first time I met you, I thought you were a lost dude-bro flake. It’s bad enough that you went to the same university for undergrad and now grad school, and so you think that you’re BFF with all the proffies and you know everything about the department even though you took ten years off to backpack the Adirondacks or some shit. It’s bad enough that you live next door to your undergrad frat house and bring your undergrad frat brothers to the grad student bar night--my only refuge from the flakes. But you’re also dating a freshman who wants to rush at your frat. Creepers. Not because you’re both guys, or because he’s at your former frat, but because you’re in a god damn position of authority and there’s a ten year age difference. You need a pair of the RYS “No Snowflake” boxers.

Nice Nancy: I see you all day. We share an office, we TA together, we have almost all of our classes together. I wish you were less nice so that I could bitch about you. Don’t you have any human flaws? Or are you some kind of superhuman gumdrop unicorn?

Irrelevant Igor: You’re the only grad student from outside the department in this seminar. What the hell are you doing here? You only talk about the reading in relation to things none of the rest of us have heard of, and call the authors sloppy methodologically because they don’t use your discipline’s standards. Really? Do you know where you are? The prof teaching the class went to school with the people whose books we’re reading.

Awesome Advisor: You’re awesome. You call Simpering Sarah on her bullshit, you shut down Nick Know-it-all when he gets too far away from the readings. But who keeps you on task during class? You spent twenty minutes last week bitching about your kid’s little league baseball coach and what a dick he is. I love your kids, I love hearing about them--but outside class. You getting off task just encourages Sarah to talk about her cake decorating and how it relates to the reading and Igor to go off on the time he was in Istanbul and ran into Author X at a bar.

Alton from Apollo Beach Does a Little Old School Rating. (Remember When We Did Nothing BUT Rate Students? We Don't Either.)

Jolly Jennifer: Yes. I know. We had a deal at the end of last spring when you asked me if you could sign into my upper level gender class, even though you would only be a sophomore. I said, “Yes. However, it is going to be reading and theory intensive, so you are going to have to do more reading then most, because you don’t have the background in theory you will need.” You promised that if you got added to my class, you would read over the summer to make sure you were prepared. You even took the list of books I gave to you read, laughing and smiling as you said, “Thank you! Thank you!” I NEVER learn! You never read any of those books over the summer. You never read any of the books for class either. You don’t know the difference between a theory and a method. My ferret writes a better literature review than you. Yet you keep on laughing and smiling. I hope your jolliness gets you through the winter break, because your grade in my class won’t. This grade will be the coal in your stocking.

Carefree Caylee: Of course I understand the implosion with your group of peers wasn’t your fault. Yes, I know that when the first group imploded that was Tom’s fault, not yours. After all, he’s task-oriented, a goal-setter, a go-getter and is meticulously organized. I know it was too much for him to ask that you remain on campus one weekend so your group could meet to make arrangements to do research in a local nonprofit organization. Yes, I know all these things, because you went to the chair of the department and had a crying fit in his office. Of course, then I had to sit in his office. I had to rearrange the entire class around the fact that you are a whiney, privileged, little “My daddy’s a doctor” contessa. I needed to do this because you told the chair you were afraid of Tom. So I rearranged the groups – separating you and Tom as if you were on the kindergarten playground. Guess what? Your new group was no better. Gasp! They wanted to meet on weekends. You told them, “I can’t meet on weekends, because my daddy wants to see me on weekends and he is paying for school, so I have to do what he wants.” I hope daddy the doctor is impressed with your failing grade and the fact you won't graduate, because if there is one class you must pass, it is this one - the capstone. Of course you and he know that too isn’t your fault. Happy Holidays!

Ryan the Recluse: Holy shit you came to the final exam! It is the seventh time I’ve seen you all semester. You showed up the first day of class. You showed up and gave your first speech. You took the midterm. You took the final. You also showed up for each of the three days you were supposed to give speeches in class. Unfortunately when you showed up you didn’t give them. You got full credit for the first speech. You got an A- on the midterm and an A on the final. While I am thrilled by the fact that you read the book and studied for the two tests, I am afraid that you are getting 0 for participation, and three 0s for the three speeches you missed. You see Ryan, the point of a speech class is that you come to class and give speeches. Let’s see, that’s 225 points out of 950. You should be grateful I bothered to grade your final. Consider it your Christmas present. I hope you aren’t shocked when you realize that 24% is an F.

Sanctimonious Sandy: While I realize your closed-minded religiosity (I don’t dare call it Christianity this close to Christmas: that would be sacrilegious) is a definite part of your identity, bringing up conservative religious beliefs is not appropriate for every topic in our class on gender. Worse still, while you believe all opinions are equal, there are some opinions more equal than others. Those are called informed opinions. You have succeeded brilliantly in keeping your opinions uninformed. If you don’t think that is a good idea that women should vote, express it by not voting. Teena Brandon’s sexuality did not prove she was demon possessed and needed an exorcism. That’s some empathy you have. It really reminds me of the Jesus that hung out with prostitutes, cripples and other ‘undesirables.’ Queer theory is not an attempt by academics to “turn everyone homosexual.” If you had read the Butler and Foucault, you would understand that. I know you don’t want to get gainful employment when you graduate, since you are only here for your Mrs. Degree. Hopefully, you will find your Mr. Right for Christmas, because given your knee-jerk reactions to everything that offends your religious sensibilities, you are not going to make it on your own, unless you can warp the space-time continuum and go back to 1840.

Hysterical Hannah: You gave one speech and came to my office crying, snot running down your nose, tears streaming down your face, body hitching and trembling as if you were having a stroke. School is too much. You have never not gotten an ‘A’ throughout high school. Welcome to the university! You had this speech. You have a test tomorrow and another one the following day. Plus you have to pick a major and figure out your schedule for the next three and a half years. Um. No you don’t. You are a first semester freshman. You don’t have to pick a major immediately. You don’t have to have the next three years of your life planned out. Who the hell is putting all this pressure on you? I’m no counselor, but damn, you need to take one day at a time. Learning how to deal with pressure may be the most useful thing you learn in college, because if you can’t deal with this, I have no idea how the hell you are going to survive when you have work and life commitments that will undoubtedly pull you in different directions. Get your shit together. And no more crying. I’ll be out of tissues before you are out of issues. As I said, I’m no counselor, but if you bring a bottle of 21 year old Glenlivet for the holidays, I’ll pretend to listen.

Erroneous Eric: No. It states on the syllabus that there is one opportunity for extra-credit in this class. Hell, if it wasn’t part of the department’s culture that students get to partake in studies for extra-credit, I wouldn’t even do that bullshit. Part of being a good citizen, I suppose. Oh. I’m sorry you didn’t get the chance to play on the Wii for two hours for 20 points of extra credit. No, I don’t round up grades. You earn what you earn. Yes, the extra credit would have bumped you up to an A- from a B+, but you missed your chance. You decided to skip the class when the extra-credit was originally announced and the sign-up sheet went around. Why don’t I give more extra credit? Extra credit for you means extra work for me. After dealing with you and the other point grubbers for 15 weeks, I need this holiday break more than you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Return of the Academic Haiku.

Gradegrubber, Gradegrubber,
Grub for a grade,
Beg for an 'A'
or even a 'Pass',
Gradegrubber, Gradegrubber,
Make some excuse,
And tell me you're not an ass.

Gradegrubber, Gradegrubber,
You're on my nerve,
The term is o'er,
'F' you deserve,
Haul out your cellphone and get on the air
And call up someone who cares.

It's Adjunct Job Huntin' Season Again!

College #1: Nice pay, absentee boss

"Hey, wanna come back next semester?"
"Same classes, same hours, same pay?"
"Ok, you are on the schedule."
"Great! Hey, I love this place. Can you just hire me full-time?"
"Throw me another class?"


College #2: Nice pay, poor working conditions.

"Please inform the college of your availability status for the subsequent semester."
"I'm available!!!"
Hack, hack. "Hey, I found next semester's schedule!"
"Uh, oh. I'm not on it."
"Uh, excuse me, why am I not on the schedule for the next semester?"
"Who are you?"
"____, your loyal serf for the last zillion years."
"Oh. I gave your course to ____ (my fishing buddy, BFF, cousin's girlfriend, etc.)___"


College #3: A cold call prospect.

Knock. Knock.
"Remember me? I'm the one you didn't hire for a full-time position last year."
"Yes. You were totally unqualified to teach full-time at our Prestigious Institution."
"So, you wouldn't be interested in hiring me to teach the same class as an Adjunct, right?"
"As an Adjunct? You are perfect! Best resume we've seen in years!"
"Great! When do I start?"
"Call us next month. We haven't written the schedule yet."
"How much do you pay?"
"Wow! That's several hundred dollars more than the other college pays per month."
"That's $1000 per SEMESTER."


College #1: My formally favorite college

Whew! Classes start tomorrow. It's been tough getting the lesson plans together, but I'm finished!
Ring. Ring.
"I know that your classes would have started tomorrow, but we just hired a full-time tenure track Professor in your field....."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wichita Witchy on Plagiarism, Take Home Exams, and Getting Married!

It's that time of the year again, and I am once again assigning take-home exams in lieu of holding them during finals week even though it is strictly against Grungy College's policy. I don't even bother writing a letter to the dean explaining my decision, for what would I say? That the College's scheduling such exams practically on Christmas Eve is ideal neither for my students nor for me since we're already equally fed up with each other, the course, the school, and the city, and we can't wait around until the last minute to make travel plans since airplane tickets are soaring as it is. Besides, I'm getting married, and the last thing I want to bring to my destination wedding is a pile of illegible, ink-stained, snot-covered, swine-flu infested blue books. I'll miss the hearts over their i's, though.

Assigning take-home exams raises all sort of issues, however, all of which could be avoided if the students ever followed directions. But they never do - even when you spell these out in bold on the assignment sheet and go over the same shit at the beginning of every goddamn class. I am not sure if it has to do with a shortage of office supplies in the nation or that of brain cells, but I just don't get why it's so fucking difficult to place the final draft on top of the rough draft and staple the two together. And then there's the "back-up" electronic copy: time and again, on the syllabus and on every assignment, I let them know that I cannot open a certain pesky format and that, in case they really are so fucking dumb that they cannot figure out what a compatible file is, they should copy/paste their work into the body of the email for safety. But they never do. And please don't give me this "It's my first semester" crap; Grungy College or not, you're not a complete moron, and, contrary to what you think, nor am I. I am placing bets on who the "smart" ones turn out to be. It'll be a fun game for me on my honeymoon. Thank god my future husband also teaches at Silly College and feels my pain.

But, let's say, they've managed to submit their masterpieces correctly, then there's the real issue of whether or not these are plagiarized. This, to me, is the main detriment to offering take-homes. In my 11 semesters of teaching, I have reported at least 20 cases of plagiarism, some of them involving repeated offenders, and about half on the final exam - which, according to the carefully phrased policy stated on the course syllabus, results in an F not just for the assignment but for the entire course. I warn them ahead of time; I try to write idiosyncratic assignments with specific guidelines; I ask to see at least part of their work in stages; and I specifically say that Interwebopedia is not a legitimate source. But it doesn't do shit.

Yesterday, at a faculty workshop on academic integrity, I found out that I am sort of a superstar at the Office of Student Affairs, and that each time they see an intracampus envelope, they say, "There she goes again." I am fairly certain I'm the only one at my department who ever bothers, and I do envy everyone else, especially the full-time folks who don't have to teach 5 classes a semester to pay their rent, who can do their own research or just plain hang during that hour+ I spend on researching, documenting, and writing up a typical case. I was ecstatic when some of my students were contacted by the dean and, as punishment, asked to read a book on how to read a book; but my high was short-lived once I realized that sanctions like these were, ultimately, unenforceable. Maybe better schools have better disciplinary sanctions, but with most professors not caring enough to report, and the higher echelons not having the balls to expel plagiarists, the students are getting the message that it's Okay. Cry a little. Get an F, maybe. Retake the course and make the College that much more wealthier. Repeat.

I absolutely hate confronting plagiarists. I hate making people lie. I hate making them cry. I hate the follow-up emails in which they tell me that they're first-generation immigrants who have to work three jobs to take care of their families and that they didn't have enough time and didn't think that "doing some extra reading" was wrong. I hate it because I would like to think that I am a kind, understanding person, and that had they contacted me in advance, we would have worked something out. But once I see the inconsistency in style or the vertical apostrophe or the differently spelled Greek name, I take it personally because they either don't care or must think I'm a total idiot. Or both. I am already doing all those things designed to deter plagiarism which my colleagues suggested at the meeting--all those things which, they admitted, require extra time on our part. I get reimbursed for administering final exams: two hours per class. Yet, how many more hours will I spend on confirming my suspicions, tracking down the offenders, and then crying over how I have failed as an educator?!

I truly hope that, unlike my marriage, I shall not hold this job for as long as I live.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Can Haz Re-Grade?

Dear Mrs Trixie,

Firstly, I would like to thank you for a great semester. As I told Nice Nancy, this has been my favorite class so far at Fancy University. (Especially staring at your ass during class when you thought I wasn't looking) I do have one issue though before finals! (Which are in two days!)

I was told to contact you in regards to my mid-term grade for a possible discussion and/or re-grade. I received a “C” on my midterm essay that you graded (six weeks ago). I was a bit disappointed with this grade (as it is entirely consistent with my other work and class participation so far). Many of your comments were positive (if you count a, the, and because as positive comments, because those were the only positive comments), so I was confused as to why my grade was so low. I would really like to meet with you this week to go over it. If you have time for me, I would really appreciate it. Of all the essays that I wrote this semester, I thought that my midterm was the best (unfortunately, it was). I put a great deal of effort into it and I really thought that I nailed it (so give me an A for effort). Any look-over that could boost my grade even the slightest would make a major difference for such a vital chunk of my grade (because the rest of my grade blows chunks as well). I know some re-grade requests were mentioned earlier by other students (like Hateful Harold, who was summarily shot down by Prof Smackdown, but apparently lied to other students to save face), but I waited until classes ended to give both you and me more time to go over it (translation: to give you as much time as possible to forget why you thought my essay was so bad and try to confuse you into a better grade during finals week when you're busy with a million other things). Thank you for your consideration and I hope to hear back from you soon.

Last-minute Larry


Dear Larry,

I'm glad you enjoyed the class--walking up ten flights of stairs from my shared windowless sub-basement grad office to where the abovestairs people live is good for the glutes--and that you've at least learned how to send readable email. I will be holding my regular office hours, the same as I have for the fourteen weeks of the semester, including the weeks following said midterm paper. I won't "re-grade" your paper because I sweated blood (and, I'll admit, a cheap box of wine) over the stack of midterms the first time around, and I don't want to think about you or your paper any more than I have to now that the end of the semester and the sweet freedom of ignoring my advisor's nagging to do research over Christmas break is so near. However, if you'd like to listen to me bang my head against the wall of my office while you explain why you should have a "re-grade," I'll see you during office hours.

No love,
TA Trixie from Tulsa

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Too Stupid For Words.

Overheard at 2:30 PM, finals week:

Student: Can I get the phone number of my Music Appreciation teacher?

Secretary: Who is the teacher?

Student: Mr. Smith.

Secretary: He's not in today. I'll dial his home (!)

Student: (pause) Hello, Mr. Smith? Hi, I'm in your Music Appreciation class, and I wanted to make sure it was okay if I came in early to take the Final Exam tomorrow? (pause) tomorrow, yeah. (pause) My name is Scott Slacker. (pause) Scott Slacker. (pause) Music Appreciation (pause) I don't know the section number, but it meets on Monday and Wednesday at 3:30. (pause) Are you sure? (pause). Well, who does teach it? (pause) Oh, okay, sorry to bother you.

Student: (laughs) I think I had the wrong teacher. Is there a Mr. Jones that teaches Music Appreciation?

Secretary: Yes, would you like me to dial him at home? (!)

Student: Yeah, that would be great. (pause). Hello, Mr. Jones, this is Scott Slacker, from your Music Appreciation class, and I'd like to make sure it's okay if I come in early tomorrow morning to take the final, because I have to be at the airport to catch a plane, and it takes a couple hours to get there, so if it's okay with you, I'll just come in at 7:30, and take my final then. Thank your very much.

(Hangs up phone) I got his voicemail. Thanks for your help.

Secretary: You're welcome.

God only knows what will happen tomorrow morning. Clearly, this student is not a super-keener, as he doesn't know the name of his instructor, and hasn't made his plea in person ahead of time. It's hard to imagine being so naive and self-centered that you expect your instructor to come in an hour early (before dawn!) to accommodate your snowflake schedule, but the student seemed to think that the voicemail he left constituted agreement on the part of the instructor.

I'm tempted to come in early just to watch.

The Ed-Bashing Can't Be Halted.

I’m an assistant professor in humanities at a big, mediocre state school. Since spouses can take classes practically for free, my wife decided to get an MA in Educational Psychology with a Gifted Education focus in my school’s College of Education. It just so happens the program is mostly online.

The horror. The horror.

Some classes have a few legitimate assignments, but even these are designed to be gradable by a robotic “rubric,” lest any actual thoughtful evaluation or feedback occur. Most classes are driven by silly multiple choice quizzes, obviously written by a textbook company robot. Don’t worry -- the profs have put lectures for each chapter online. If only these weren’t laughably bad. A gifted education professor slowly, painstakingly overdiscusses each little point, for example -- exactly the painful spoon-feeding that teachers of gifted students must avoid. Most classes’ lectures were done by a woman who does nothing else but read out textbook chapter sub-headings, inflecting her voice as if she’s explicating and analyzing.

“EMOTIONAL AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN MIDDLE CHILDHOOD is very important. Along these lines, ERIKSON’S THEORY on INDUSTRY VS. INFERIORITY involves SELF-UNDERSTANDING and SELF-CONCEPT. Also important is DEVELOPING SELF-ESTEEM. You see, there is HIERARCHICALLY STRUCTURED SELF-ESTEEM; then there is FOSTERING A MASTERY-ORIENTED APPROACH...” Really. It would be embarrassing were it not so criminally lazy.

What infuriates me beyond everything else is that these douche-bag education faculty probably got a huge “quality enhancement” grant to set all this up in the first place, and continue to rake in filthy lucre running hundreds of students through the automated assembly line. Students do more reading, research and writing in one of my undergrad classes than these distance-learning grad students do in a semester. I don’t understand how this program got approved or accredited. And unfortunately, the stereotype that most education majors are rock-dumb applies at my uni, too.

I fantasize about meeting some of these crooks while chatting with the provost at a faculty mixer, cinematically spouting the perfect diatribe to crush them and uncover their sins against education. Oh well. At least I can write about it here. Once I get tenure, I’ll try exposing this more publicly, naming names. I don’t care if this sort of pseudo-education is typical elsewhere, since it’s a travesty that it happens anywhere.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chicago Charlie On the Market.

I applied to somewhere between 20 and 30 jobs this year, in addition to the 20 or 30 to which I applied last year. I don't know, because I am not very organized, especially as the semester ends (next week... and not a week too soon...), but it seems like I got more rejection letters last year. Not to say that I haven't gotten more acceptance letters, but for fuck's sake, I haven't gotten shit. Three, count them, three schools, have responded (one offering me an interview for another school somewhere between the Iron Curtain and the Tropic of Capricorn. In a place the government won't even let peace corps volunteers go. gulp). I can't yet find the country on a map... but I would go there regardless).

Anyway, is it too early yet? Are schools not responding either way yet? I get that they have a lot of applicants, yet somehow they never fail to send me that "This card is optional: tell us you're a white male so we can skip the whole reading of the application part (not that they're reading it that closely anyway, right?)" so why can't they take the time to send me another form letter about how great I am and there were just so many applicants blah blah blah. Its only human fucking decency, right? I mean, am I the only one developing a Pavlovian response to the mailman (and not the good kind) where I feel the adrenaline start to flow because maybe... just maybe... I don't even give a fuck if I get the job... just tell me one way or the other! The uncertainty, dammit!

It's the uncertainty that's killing me! Every time my gmail notifier dings to tell me I got a new message, I have mini-coniption... is it from a place I applied to??? No, Jimmy the fucking student moron with his paper (actual quote: The innermost zone of the final circle of Dante's Hell is named after the apostle Judecca, who was one of the twelve apostles who betrayed Jesus. Brutus and Cassius are also punished for killing Julius Caesar, founder of Rome." Actual quote. Actual quote. Perhaps I, in some former life, was on a hiring committee that never really bothered with sending back rejection letters and this is my Dantean punishment...).

I lost my job at Shitty College yesterday. Adjunct life, you know, easy come easy go. I am still teaching at Rich Bitch (read: Uggs, black tights, miniskirts, long T-shirt) University next semester, but here's the thing... the health insurance... you know? The health insurance. Shitty College gives us health insurance; RBU does not.

And I am an ill puppy. Genetic deformities and all. My health bills and medication easily exceed the adjunct pay Shitty College offers. And fine, at least Shitty told me I was not being rehired (we'll leave aside for a moment the hideousness of the adjunct system... don't even get me started...). What's a guy to do now? Back behind the iron curtain? Have textbook will travel? I hope I can at least afford the inoculations.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Erin from Erie On Students Who Can't (Or Won't) Read.

To My Tuesday Morning Class,

No, you are not the "uninformed" class. Yes, you are the only section I am teaching where no one's Powerpoint has been posted on Blackboard, but this is because no one in your section has given me permission to. As stated previously, you need to give me explicit permission. This means you have to say "hey, you can put my Powerpoint presentation online," simply giving a presentation and the file for said presentation does not mean I can redistribute it.

All my other sections have Powerpoints under their folder because all my other sections have students that understand this concept, not because I told them one thing and you another. The announcement was made on a shared webpage you all have access to. In fact, it was the first line in the announcement where the second line informed you about the extra credit quiz available - which everyong from your section took. You got the announcement. I informed you all - your class was the only one that could not understand it.

Frankly I am disappointed at your choice to spend the first fifteen minutes of class bitching me out for your inability to read, but unsurprised no one in this section understood it - you are rather slow. All my other sections of this course will be getting out two hours earlier than you this week. Why? Because even with a full semester of giving you a single five minute break and them two fifteen minute breaks per class, you are still almost a full week behind. Even though I have had to ask you to read two or three pages from the book as a replacement for lecture because I have run out of time with you (even though I had plenty of time in the other sections), you are still a full chapter behind. You are obviously not a class that gets things.

Or perhaps you are so far behind because you spend the first fifteen minutes of every class verbally assaulting me and asking me dumb shit you would know if you read the fucking syllabus. Maybe - just maybe - if you didn't take up class time bitching about how much work you had to do outside of class, there would be less work you needed to do - gasp! - outside class!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mid Career Mike On Endings.

I got word the other day that a student of mine, let's call her Natalie, died in a car wreck some miles from campus.

She was a darling, sweet girl, who was among my very best students. In my briefcase at this moment is a project she did in my class. There's an A- on it, and some scribbles of mine. I thought it had everything except maybe a bit of ambition.

It seems so silly now to think about that part of things.

I've never had a student die during the semester, though I know it happens. And the feelings I have about it are conflicted and confusing. It throws my class in such a dim little shadow. What was her work for? Why did she sweat out that mid-term exam? What good has it done now?

I keep thinking, what was the last thing she said in class? What did I say to her the last time I saw her. I never knew Natalie, never saw her outside of my class except for maybe one office visit to pick up a packet of readings or some such.

And I don't know her family or friends. She didn't hang with anyone in class - that I was aware of. I only know from the newspaper report that she lived off campus with her mother and a younger brother. I wonder about them, how they're doing.

Natalie wasn't one of those students who sometimes stick around after class to talk. She did her work. She was pleasant in class. She answered questions and seemed sharp and bright.

I don't know the details of her life. I know more about the car wreck that ended it.

And when a student mentioned her death in class, there was an odd feeling in the room. Not a mourning or anything like that. Not disinterest. Just quiet and reflective awkwardness. I looked down at my notes for class. I thought about some instructions I wanted to give for the final exam. I thought that I was the adult in class, and that it was my job to say something.

I didn't. I muttered something about "tragedy," and I dismissed them. I told them I'd post my notes for the day on the class blog. Most of them left quietly. One student stayed and asked about extra-credit since he'd missed two of the major projects. His question struck me as intrusive, and I told him I'd see him the next day.

I haven't talked to anyone on campus about Natalie. My colleagues didn't seem to know her; she wasn't a major. There's a picture of her on the college's website. She's smiling.

I'm not ready for the end of this semester. I got behind in a couple of classes. My grading is stacked up on my desk. I have finals to give next week, and then a month off where I had planned to put my feet up on a new teak table on my deck. I was going to sit there and drink and wait for the new semester to come around, the new beginning that has always been such a delicious part of my job as a professor.

But I can't get Natalie off of my mind.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snowflake Stupefication.

It is nearing the end of classes and for my freshmen English students I am holding mandatory conferences during extended office hours and class hours this week (our program encourages us to cancel up to two classes to allow this kind of one on one time with students). These topics are designed to address questions for the final paper assignment, giving me a chance to gently guide each student to a suitable research topic, and allow one final desperate attempt at correcting common errors in their writing.

Since I canceled 2 classes this week, each student must attend a conference or it counts as an absence; university policy dictates that 6 missed classes means you fail the class. Those that skipped their conferences received an email from me telling them that an absence had been added to their attendance records.

Half of my students come to conferences with drafts prepared, a set of questions to ask and a clear plan of what is left for them to do. The remaining students ask one or both of the following questions.

"What is my grade now?" and/or "What is the lowest I can get on my final paper and still pass?"

It is here, in my office, that these less then enthusiastic students discover that one pesky paper which they failed to turn in weeks ago is dragging down their average. Without a C-, this class will not count for a writing credit and they will have to take another class that makes them write more than circles on a scantron sheet.

This also seems to be the place where the student discover my VERY strict "no late papers" policy. It is on my syllabus, it is on our Blackboard site and I announce it on and before every due date for every paper. However, every single student who is missing a paper seems SHOCKED, SHOCKED I tell you, to discover this policy for the first time. There are protests. There are a few tears. One student threatened to get her mother involved. Another simply stood up and walked out. While I feel I was very clear in both my attendance policy and my late paper policy, I was astounded to find the following emails in my inbox over the weekend.


Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 3:13 PM
Hi Ms. [Instructor],

I am supposed to have an appointment with you today at 2:45 however, i had blood work done yesterday and was put under Anastasia for it. The procedure has made me very nauseous and i've been throwing up since last night. I know this is an inconvenience to you, but i had every intention attending, i just don't think its wise. I would hate to be marked absent over this. May i please meet you monday or any other day that works for you in order to not be counted absent? Would this be my fourth absence?

Thank you so very much,
Vomiting Veronica

(This is in fact, Veronica's 8th absence. Feel free to negotiate all you want Veronica, you are still going to fail)


Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 9:37 PM

I have checked my grade online today and it says that i have only one sentence for paper #2. I am sure if something like happened that because I submitted the wrong document. Since i really do not know exactly what you have received or not it would like to submit all four.
Thank you in advance!


ENG 101
Sat, Dec 5, 2009 at 1:27 AM
Attached: Paper 2=2 months late
Paper 3 = 1.5 months late

Hope these are better than the first one!!


Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 3:47 PM
Attached: Paper #2= 2 months late

If anything let me know. We lost this game I am kind of sad but we still [XYZ football team] and hopefully you have a great weekend take care

Last Paper
Sat, Dec 5, at 7:45 AM
Attached: 4 JPEG files

[Instructor last name]
Couldnt get my paper to upload for soem reson so I took pics with my iPhone. Sending them to you know so u can fix my grade

Richy Rich
Sent from my iPhone

Dana From Decatur Goes Old School. December Always Brings Us Nearer the Breaking Point.

Frida the Fucktard
Wow, this is just great. No, really. Super. You turned in three pages for your final, eight-page research paper. You have three sources. One is Wikipedia. I mean, this just screams “I don’t give a shit.” Which I assume is what you must have been going for, because, well, there’s just no other way to read this paper. So, I’ll thank you kindly to continue not giving a shit (read: under no circumstances do I want to hear from you) when you receive this F. And seriously—don’t even think about emailing me and asking why.

Adam the Asshole
I was elated to receive your awesome research paper. You’ve been such a joy in class—what with the eye-rolling and the snotty little attitude you bring with you every goddamn day—that I couldn’t wait to see what you had in store for me here. And Asshole, you did not disappoint. You had the full eight pages, right? I mean, never mind that your title is two lines long in size fifty-seven font. And never mind that your margins are 2.5 inches, and you have an “excerpt” that goes on for the entirety of page 4. I didn’t even notice that. Riiiight. Cuz I’m an idiot, and you’re certainly the first person who’s ever thought of trying those clever little tricks. Oh. No, wait. You’re the idiot. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. I hope this grade conveys my sentiments.

Ira the Ingrate
Remember when you dropped off your final assignment in my office? You know…it was after having missed class for the third straight week? And I said “Where’s the other half of this assignment?” And you looked at me with that dopey little ingrate face and said something to the effect of “mumblemumblemumbelForgot it at homemumblemumble.” And when I suggested that you retrieve it, you just sighed one of your exasperated sighs and said “I could. I just really don’t want to.” Well, that was an excellent final impression to leave on me, Ira. Really, really top notch. So I’m just calculating grades, and you know, I could boost your participation so that you would actually pass this class. I could. I just really don’t want to.

Liza the Loser
Oh my god, I totally know. You were so gonna write and turn in this paper on time, and it was gonna be totally awesome, but then your boyfriend was, like, being a total dick, and then your manager called and made you work thirty extra hours this week, and then, ohmigod, you almost forgot about the fact that your dad went totally freaking spastic on you the other night, and to top it all off you were on your way in to write the paper when your car died, and then your uncle had to come out and look at it, but he totally didn’t know what was wrong, so you were just stressing out, and…Liza, please. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. You’re making my ears bleed. It’s over. You’re done. I don’t care. No paper, no grade. Just add me to your list of people/things that are, like, totally screwing you over. Cuz I’m out, bitch. Keep it real, keep it fresh, just keep it the fuck away from me.

Witchy from Wichita Is On Her Way To Setting Some Kind of Nutty Record for Posts We Don't Understand But Are Still Drawn To.

Things You Hope You Will Never Hear from Your Partner at the End of the Night:

"What's your name again?"
"I've had better."
"Sorry about that."
"My memory is a bit fuzzy. What happened?"
"I totally dozed off. What were you saying?"
"Was this your first time?"
"Let's be adults about this, and pretend it never happened."
"We never have to see each other again, right?"
"I think I love you."
"So when do you want to meet my parents?"
"I think we've taken this thing as far as we could."
"I want my mommy!"

Things You Hope You Will Never Hear from Your Student at the End of the Semester:

"What's your name again?"
"I've had better."
"Sorry about that."
"My memory is a bit fuzzy. What happened?"
"I totally dozed off. What were you saying?"
"Was this your first time?"
"Let's be adults about this, and pretend it never happened."
"We never have to see each other again, right?"
"I think I love you."
"So when do you want to meet my parents?"
"I think we've taken this thing as far as we could."
"I want my mommy!"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bobby From Barberton Continues Our Look at Distance Ed and How It's Going to Fucking Kill All Of Us.

Let's get one thing clear. No one teaches in a virtual setting. We manage in a virtual setting. Yes, you are a manager at best, a workshop instructor at worse. Regardless of where you are on that continuum, you are not a teacher.

Your job is to make sure the little dears complete their assignments and the final exam before their time runs out or the course ends. You can offer some comments, perhaps answer questions. That's it. That's the sum existence of managing a course in a virtual setting, or online.

Yes, it takes as much as time as you let it. Read that sentence again. As much time as YOU let it.

I managed an online course for two years. I offered enough feedback to let the ankle biters know that I had read their poorly structured, nearly indecipherable answers. I could grade as hard or as light as I wanted. It did not matter because the final exam was comprehensive.

In my two years, no one ever made an A. Or a D for that matter. Lots of Cs. If you had taken the same class with me in meat space instead of virtual space and put forth a similar effort, then you are probably looking at a B- at worse. The comprehensive final got them every time. The students who made a B or B+ in the virtual course would probably have gotten an A or A- if they could have taken the physical course.

The administration loved their online classes because they are a cash cow. The college charged normal tuition rates. Yes, you read that line correctly. Regardless if you took the course in virtual space or in meat space, you paid the same rate. Also, the online students paid a technology fee just like their meat space counterparts.

As to the cost, the university had low fixed costs that came in the form of the server that hosted the online class, the software needed to run the class, and the low pay grade staff that administered these classes. The school also bought and held the books. When the little nippers enrolled in the course, the school shipped the textbook. When they completed the course or when time ran out, which ever came first, the students returned the textbook.

The only variable cost was me, the manager. And I was receiving for $150 for each student that completed the course. I calculated the gross margin at 98% and the profit margin at around 63% depending on how fixed costs were allocated.

Now, you know why all colleges love online courses. They are a fucking cash cow. The mob has nothing on this bullshit.

As to my managerial skills, I did not answer emails after 6 p.m. or before 8 a.m. I held virtual office hours one night a week. An occasional dear would ask a question about an assignment. Nothing malicious or mentally taxing.

Except for two students, the students who enrolled in the class I managed simply wanted three credits. They paid their money. I gave them what they wanted in exchange. I am pretty sure a drug dealer works on this model.

Two students grubbed for points. I laughed because no one can hear you in virtual space. Said No and explained why in one sentence. You do not have enough points for an A. That was it. No whiny bullshit about dead relatives who got married. Sick pets who were offering jobs. Or some other half ass excuse. So long as I gave them what they wanted (a passing grade was sufficient), then there were no complaints.

You are not teaching. They are not learning. You are simply managing.

As to the fucktards and morons who think this model of education will supplant or otherwise transform higher education, you could not be more wrong or dumber than you if tried. However, that thought will have to wait for another day.

Fredo from Fredonia (We Can't Believe Nobody's Used It Before) On Mid Career Job Seeking.

Dear God,

It's me, Fredo. Yes, I know I just wrote last week about my root canal. But since that went so well, I thought I'd write again. (I'm sending this from my new iPhone...neato. Blessed are the technophiles, for they shall have gadgets.)

Anyway, I got a call for an MLA interview. It's my first this year, but as you know, it's hardly my first kick at the cat. Yes, I've had my share of decent gigs, even tenure one time, but sue me, I like to move around. But now I'm part-time and hating life, and I'd just about do anything for a full time gig again at a decent school.

So, Better-N-Average Univ called me up the other day - on the iPhone, I might add (crystal clear reception) - and they said, "You wanna?" And I said, "Oh yeah, Philly...can't freaking wait."

Yeah, the MLA's in Philly again. What gives. Wasn't it like 4 years ago it was there? What kind of a boner does the MLA have for cheesesteaks? Am I right, God? Up high!

Anyway, I'm kinda nervous. You know, I'm no spring chicken. Last time I interviewed I found myself in a bright hotel in San Diego surrounded by fucking babies. It was murderous. I felt like someone's dad. I felt like I should be handing the little dears tissue and juice boxes.

And that was a couple of years ago. I'm balder than ever, more wrinkled. Do these fuckers who called me for an interview know that I've been teaching longer than anyone on the search committee?

And at mid-career, this whole venture just seems so fraught with falsity. I know enough about the profession not to be like those newbies who still have stars in their eyes. I lie about how much I love my job, and the committee members lie about what a great school they are and how they all get along, and we're all just Pinnochio-ing it up like we're Tiger Woods or something. (Too soon?)

I don't know why it's so hard. I don't know why it's so dreary. Maybe the concrete clouds in Philadelphia in December will act as a sort of corollary for the whole enterprise. I just wish a green deadly fog would overtake the convention center so I could lie down in the nearest bar and just let death overtake me.

No, wait, then I'd miss all the presentations. (Ba dum bump!)

God, seriously, I'll be here all week. Tip your waitress. And thanks for listening.

Yer pal,

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cheesy Chessy Grovels.

Hey professor,

this is Cheesy Chessy from your 101W class. First off I would like to apologize for my recent absence from your class the past two weeks. I have been going to school in spots, due to the flu circulating around my home, as well as my sisters house who lives next door.

Too much info i know but i figured I'd give you my whole family history (that was an attempt at a joke by the way).

On a more serious note though, i was wondering if there is any possible extra assignment/s that i could do to make up for my lost time in your class. I know that I have probably made a poor impression on you due to my recent attendance, but i assure you that academics are a big priority for me, after a recent downfall in grades this time last semester due to personal reasons.

I also just created a run-on sentence, which I'm sure isn't helping my chances, but i implore you to give me a chance at making a better impression on you, and doing better in your class. So if you would please consider giving me some type of assignment to pull up my grade i would be immensely grateful.

Chessy :)


Hey "you,"

This is your professor. First off, I would like to inquire as to why, after sending me this email over a month ago, you have attended my class exactly twice: once to take the midterm exam, and then to pick up the said exam. I wonder if you should get those spots checked out, there being a pandemic an all around your house and that of your sister's. Does she have the same spots, as well?

Too much info, I know, but I figured I'd ask as many vague questions as possible in order to find out absolutely nothing about you and your family history about which I couldn't care less anyway while listening to your feeble attempt to persuade me that you could make up for all that time you had lost outside of my class, not to mention all that time I had lost worrying about your pathetic attendance, as well as writing this thoughtful reply, while creating a seemingly endless run-on sentence (that was an attempt at a joke by the way).

So, if you would really like to help your chances of passing this course and not see your grade fall abysmally down "due to [a different] set of [equally undefined and, frankly, irrelevant] personal reasons," consider doing the actual assignments, you asshole, and not reaching for some extra credit bullshit report on the writing of which you would spend less time than I would on figuring out the assignment itself since there is no readily available Wikipedia page on that.

So, if you would please consider not sending me any more emails unless they contain legitimate course work, I would be immensely grateful.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Visit From the Bitchy Bear, And She's Going On About Hank, Job Searching, And Just Generally Free-Associating In That Bitchy Way We Love.

I admit I am an extra bitchy bear because I am on this new raw food diet, and while I like raw food, I generally like my raw food cooked and covered in bacon. That, and MY SABBATICAL IS ALMOST OVER AND I’VE GOTTEN NOTHING DONE WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

Ok, focusing.

Honestly, come on guys. Hank’s already had a tough time. Do you really think that certain holes of academia are really that queer friendly? I don’t. I used to watch my well-intended colleagues at Moo U try to worm the information out of somebody during an interview. My colleagues? These were all very nice people, really wanting to get to know you and help you out. And if they figured out you were gay, they’d quickly grab one of the few gay people in the university to go to dinner and try to get that resident gay to help convince you that our small burg was a bastion of enlightenment in a rural world wrongly portrayed as intolerant. This most often ended badly, with the gay resident talking about how he now carries a gun to ward off the pick-up drivers with baseball bats. “However,” he’d note, “The real estate is really cheap here and we’ve got a great house even though my partner never found a job and now sells his handcrafted birdhouses on Esty to supplement hand-outs from his parents.” Swell.

I know that patting ourselves on the back for being ever-so tolerant for everything from gays to Republicans is perhaps the only way many academics are likely to get tennis elbow, but is it really that hard to believe that Hank got a poor reaction? Or that’s he’s gotten that reaction often enough in his life that he sees it even if it’s not there? Or that both of those are part of the mind-fuck that being different can be? If you can’t get that, you’re not as enlightened as you think, and you were obviously more popular in high school than I was. I, in fact, D.O. C.A.R.E about who are and your interests, as I don't believe in the manly man idea that we're all just professional robots here. It's hard to be both real and a pro, but it can be done. There's TMI and there is Incapable of Thinking About Anything But Work. Both are tedious, though one will assuredly get you tenure and promotion. It's wrong that Hank has to worry--and if we're honest we must admit he has to worry--that if he even mentions the most important person in his life, he could get submarined by the department's closet homophobe in 100 different and accepted ways ranging from "fit" to "this candidate's specious arguments about..." and so on.

But mainly Hank and the rest of you lot are violating some of the B Bear’s Most Sacred Rules of Job Season:
  • Never dwell on why you didn’t get a particular job past basic evaluation of your interview performance. NEVER. Yes, always reflect on what you might have done better, and if anybody offers a critique, take the advice for all it’s worth. If you did flub something, and you’re sure about it, resolve to do better next time. Past a certain point, it’s just madness to try to deconstruct why you didn’t get a particular job. For highly competitive markets like those in academia, there may not BE a reason, good or bad, and dwelling is both futile and self-destructive. It was just somebody else’s day that day. Focusing on the fact you didn’t get a particular job will make you feel bad about yourself, and it will undermine your confidence, and you need your confidence like you need oxygen. Dwelling can affect your relationships with the people who didn’t give you that job, and that’s not a good idea in small fields. You want to emerge from the natural feelings of disappointment and rejection (handled in private) to come through in public as a true pro, giving the world the impression that you know you were a close second because you are so fabulous how could you not be and of course you are on great terms and have the highest respect for the people who passed you over because maybe they’ll write you letters at tenure time in a short five years even though secretly you wish they were all dead from third-degree burns. Smiling while you bleed is a job skill.

  • If you find yourself obsessing, buy yourself a bartender’s guide and start learning to mix the perfect martini / Manhattan / Gibson / gimlet / pina colada. It will give you something to focus on and something to drink at the same time. Put the lime in the coconut, both for yourself and for your family/room mates/friends who are also tired of your not having a job yet. And have a chicken quesadilla, with extra guacamole. Do it for me. If you insist on being one of those annoying, well-adjusted people who value their health, then find one of them to give you coping advice because I got nothing.

  • Never shit on a job seeker. Really, just don’t, especially not in this economy. There is nothing less attractive than a person who has a job crapping on somebody who is looking for a job, except for maybe the outfits on Project Runway this season. Do you folks not remember how hard job seeking is? Hank’s message sounded entitled and victim-y, and he got pounced on. But many of us when we were job seeking—potentially the world’s most vulnerable position to be in with your clothes on—get obsessed and hurt and react badly to the disappointments that arise? As far as I could tell, Hank’s message was about being hurt and trying to regain a feeling of power. I’ve seen many a great job seeker lash out in hurt and confusion; job seeking is a form of temporary insanity, and the rest of us need not comment. None of us know why Hank didn’t get the job except the people making the decision. And if his interview was like most in my experience, it wasn’t anything he did or didn’t do. Somebody else just clicked better. Acting like we DO know why he didn’t get the job based on one resentful email to an anonymous forum---well, that’s baloney and we all know it.
Ooooo baloney. Coconut. Lime. Did somebody say “pie”?

Pac 10 Porter Says, "Proffie? Please...."

Seriously? These guys need to get off their fucking high horse. I can think of worse travesties.

I'm a graduate student and I take beginning tennis. It's my third term of tennis. I pay $70 per term to learn a bad- ass top spin ground stroke and a killer serve. I play two hours a week in class and maybe another hour a week outside. And I am getting a whole credit each term I take it and I don't bring shit for money into this school. Ten credits over five years?! The travesty! At my school you can take juggling, yoga and ping-pong and get credit.

Yeah, there's problems with athlete-students or student-athletes, though I think we tend to lump these kids into a big category when most student athletes are good students. I've tutored for the athletic dept. With a few exceptions, my students were great. Football season was tough, but these guys were practicing for four hours a day and taking three classes (unfortunately for them, we don't have the football class here) so that I could be entertained on the weekends, so I would buy school apparel to show my spirit, and do my part to keep keep the local bars running. And you know what, they're good kids.

They know everyone hates and loves them. They know we look down on them as dumb jocks but expect them to be the perfect athletes. And let's not forget the reality that a great football program makes easier for our school to attract regular students (you know, the ones we bitch about all the time) who are drunk, stoned and being way less productive than our football players all weekend.

I'm getting a bit tired of the football player (because let's be real... that's who we're all taking about when we trash on student atheltes) being such a whipping boy. Yeah, there's problems, but I don't blame these kids. I blame a system that abuses the shit out of these guys for the financial gain of the top brass at the university (while I make my own pittance) or whomever it is that benefits... because it sure as hell isn't me or the undergrads whose tuition keeps going up. All we get is to replay the moments of people whose physical prowess we could never, ever match. How pathetic is that? I can write a paper engaging with Foucault, and they can throw a forty-yard pass or left over two guys to catch it to save the game. Their way makes thousands of people happy. Mine barely makes me happy. And I'm somehow better than them?

Yeah, the athletics and academics priority is fucked up. But with universities needing to run like a business, welcome to capitalism, baby. This system gives these kids a chance to shine, but they don't entertain us enough, it just spits them back out with nary a 'thank you ma'am'. They are destined, as the last writer put it, to re-live that one amazing play for the rest of their lives while yet again, we look down on them for being a has-been, forgetting how much we have benefited from it.